SAAAC has been a place of growth for both its participants and volunteers. Volunteers are the heart of this organization. Their skills, hard work, and positivity are crucial to helping those faced with the challenges of autism. Below is a touching recount of a volunteer’s first day. Their insight, honesty, and optimism is a microcosm of the great individuals that make up this organization.
It happened when I walked into a room filled with children, youth and staff. It was my first day as a volunteer. I read a lot. I did my research as anyone would who wanted to volunteer at an autism based organization. I thought I was prepared. I knew it all – the signs and symptoms: lack of communication and social skills, repetitive behaviours, sensory stimuli issues. That day though, everything I learned, every terminology had a different meaning to it. I was assigned to a young boy : 3 years old, dark brown hair, eyes so big and eager. He enjoyed playing with the wheels of his toy truck. I joined him. That would be only time he looked into my eyes. That moment was 2 seconds long. I was with him for two hours.
It was new to me because until that point I never experienced a social situation like that. My mind was racing. He was occupied, full of life. He wouldn’t eat on the plate I gave him. Instead, he laid down his gold fish crackers on the table and ate off that. He was happy and comfortable, so I let him continue knowing that the table was clean. I remember his father: tall, handsome, grey blazer with a pleasant smile. He would walk over occasionally and try to get his son’s attention. The boy looked at him with no affection or familiarity then looked away immediately, back to his toy trucks and crackers. My heart sank. I remember thinking it must be hard for the father when his son doesn’t show the same excitement or attention other young sons would show to their fathers. At the end of the session the father came up and hugged his son. The son pulled away, engrossed in spinning the wheel of his toy truck.
I walked home that day, sad, confused, full of hope. I walked inside the subway station having many doubts and questions, but I knew one thing for sure: I wanted to go back. I wanted to understand Autism. I wanted to do something about it.